One of the things that both Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary mentioned when I interviewed them recently about their work on Cold Justice was that for them, it all came down to getting justice for the families and the victims.
They also mentioned that many fans have asked them for updates on prior cases, and when you consider just how much they’ve managed to make happen, there are definitely some results to report.
Their search for truth and the public’s need for answers prompted the newest episode of Cold Justice, airing Friday, July 18, titled “Justice Served.” In it, victims’ advocate and crime fighter John Walsh (former host of America’s Most Wanted and current host of The Hunt with John Walsh) sits down with Kelly and Yolanda to catch up on previous cases and what’s happened since they aired.
I had a chance to speak with John and hear more about “Justice Served,” and it’s clear that he still has the passion to help others, and to help victims and their families get justice.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY COMMUNITY: What made you decide to host the new Cold Justice special, “Justice Served”?
JOHN WALSH: Two reasons: I’m a fan of the show and I really think it does a real service. Having done America’s Most Wanted for 25 years and turning hundreds and hundreds of cases. I was asked by the producers to do it, and with my new affiliation with CNN, I thought it was two great reasons. They asked, it is a Turner product, but most of all, I’m a real fan of the show.
It took 27 years to reopen my son’s case. Adam, my 6-year-old son, was murdered in 1981. All those years I attempted through different chiefs to reopen the case. We finally got a new chief after 27 years, named Chad Wagner, a really great guy, and he said, “What do you want to do?”
I said I’d like to bring in my own former homicide investigator who was doing it and did it pro bono, and a former prosecutor by the name of Kelly Hancock from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who was an undefeated prosecutor. The chief said, Even though this is an unsolved homicide, I’ll reopen it. And then one month later, after those two guys looked at it, they solved the case. The chief had a press conference live on CNN and Fox News and front-page USA Today about them apologizing for the mistakes they had made way back in the day, errors that were made, et cetera, and ended that chapter of our lives. The main suspect had died eight years before that press conference, but we needed to know so badly that he would have been indicted and convicted and that huge mistakes were made. So I became a fan of Cold Justice, because I experienced all that firsthand.
Dick Wolf is a friend of mine, and when the show came on, I watched it and I thought these two ladies are kicking ass. They’re really taking no prisoners here. Kelly and Yolanda had great experience. Kelly was a top-notch prosecutor in Houston, and Yolanda was a crime scene investigator—like Marg Helgenberger’s character on CSI—so I was fans of them. And then I was in the middle of shooting The Hunt, which premiered last Sunday to wonderful incredible ratings—I’m lucky and grateful and thankful for that—so I was really busy and I could only shoot it for a day. It was a terrific experience. I wanted to meet those two ladies, and several of the investigators that they used are what I did on AMW—retired, experienced cops that would come into small towns and reopen those wounds—but so many of the people they do on Cold Justice are just desperate to get someone to look at the case. Now with DNA and all the new techniques, and you know, in a lot of the cases it is really shaky police work, so it was a very interesting experience for me. I met several of the victims of the cases that they had closed, and some of the cases they were still working on that are in that special, and it was very powerful. There was a woman who had been accused of killing her own parents, and they proved she had nothing to do with it. That’s a tough thing to live with for your life. It’s a pretty powerful special. I admire the work they do. There’s a lot of garbage on television. You’re in the business, and you probably have to look at tons of it, but Cold Justice is a very interesting way that they open these old cases.
You just answered two questions I was going to ask you! I have been a huge fan of the show and both women for quite some time. It is unlike anything I have seen. I was going to ask you which of the Cold Justice stories stuck out most for you, and it sounds like the one you mentioned, about the woman with her parents.
That was really incredible to meet her and talk to her about how she and her husband fought their way through all the gossip in the town and police saying, but not really saying, that she was the main suspect. It was really powerful. And then I met the daughter of a woman who was murdered many, many years ago, and she and her little sister, who are both grown women now, they were little girls, I think 4 and 8. They were forced by the murderer to watch the hours of torture while this horrible creep tortured their mother and raped her. Single mother. In front of them. They’ve been in counseling. People just don’t really know the level of violence that exists in America and how many thousands of cold cases, particularly homicides, there are. That was very powerful. The women said, “I hope someday, maybe through this show, we’ll find out who did it.” There were a couple of suspects through the years; one of them is still alive. There just never was enough evidence to indict anybody. I can’t imagine what she and her little sister went through as little girls, to watch their mother tortured and murdered for hours.
It’s a pretty heavy-duty special, but what they deal with is beyond heavy-duty. It’s that search for justice. It’s not about closure. As I said to many of the victims that day, none of us will ever get closure. I’ll always be the father of a murdered child. They will always be whatever crime happened to them. It’s about ending that chapter. It is about getting justice and seeing that horrible person who wrecked your life or did something horrible to a close loved one pay for it. It’s not about revenge, it’s about closing that chapter. It is about justice. There’s no such thing about closure. Everybody in the media banters that word around, but I’ll always be the father of a murdered child. One of the things that keeps motivating me to keep doing what I do is that I think about Adam. He was the victim.
You see these horrible guys like the first guy I profiled on The Hunt last Sunday night, I’d known about before I ever agreed to do The Hunt: He had allegedly murdered his wife and shot his two little girls, 5 and 8 years old, in the face. What the hell kind of a guy is that? That guy has to pay. He’s dangerous, and he’s out there.
It was a really great experience doing this. I got to meet the whole cast; they had several of the detectives there. These people are very real, very tough, very smart. These people are very passionate. The two ladies are very impressive.
When Adam was murdered in 1981, the cop world was a very chauvinist world. A lot has changed in those 33 years. But it was very much a “good old boys” club. I ran up against that and so many things were done wrong, done improperly, lazy, incompetent, poor training. I love cops, I’ve gotten every award from every police agency in the world, but you know I love cops. Way back in the day, a lot of them were very poorly trained and incompetent. … So to see these two ladies, Yolanda and Kelly—man, they’re tough. They really get on the boys and get them out there investigating. It was a very rewarding experience for me.
I think it will be interesting for any fans of cold cases or any fans of Cold Justice, they’re gonna see what this show has really done. People always say to me “Wow, look at what you did on AMW for 25 years …”
I read that something like 1,100 people were brought to justice?
1,231, I think. We have caught 17 guys from the FBI most-wanted list. The thing I am most proud of is we got 61 missing children back alive. Elizabeth Smart is probably the most famous. I could only do so many cold cases, because I was always looking for the latest horrible bastard and putting him on that show. So I did cold cases. But I always thought over the years, my God, there are tens of thousands of unsolved cases, murders, in the United States that no one will ever look at. Police agencies are so swamped. Big cities like Philadelphia and Chicago—Chicago had 11 murders last Fourth of July weekend. Their cold case squads are never going to get to these cases. So again, the power of television.
You have advocated for victims for such a long time, and so many people are still waiting for that justice. Do you have any advice for them?
I say to them, never give up. The harsh reality is that the only person that will really keep your case alive is you. If you have the wherewithal to do any media, whether it is print, radio, television, online, whatever with social media now—on The Hunt I tweet and do things online. On America’s Most Wanted, we caught 40 guys on the website alone. So with the digital world, don’t give up. Keep picking and asking someone to look at it. You have every right to call up the detective—maybe it is the third, fourth detective or five chiefs later—ask them where your case stands and to keep you up to date. You need them to solve the case. You have every right to be the squeaky wheel and ask what is being done. I did it for 27 years, and I had brought in an Assistant Attorney General from the Justice department, lots of different people, and my wife finally said, “If John Walsh can’t get his case reopened, who can? Where does the average citizen stand that is not on television?”
I had a very hard time getting Adam’s case reopened. But we never gave up. Like Elizabeth Smart. That case, according to the Salt Lake City PD and the FBI, when they arrested this carpenter that worked on the house and he had a heart attack in jail, they were going to close the case. They said she was probably dead in the desert and we have the guy. I didn’t believe they had the guy. Certainly Ed and Lois Smart didn’t. I kept profiling Elizabeth and new information I got, and a composite the police ignored, and wouldn’t you know, we got Elizabeth back, and we caught the guy, and she speaks very loudly when she can for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit that we have in D.C., and she tells them, “You were going to give up on my case. You were going to close it. When you thought you didn’t have any evidence, you didn’t have the guy, you didn’t know I was still alive.”
It was her mother and father who convinced me to keep doing it. For some reason, they just believed in their hearts that Elizabeth was alive, even against the advice from the FBI and the Salt Lake City police. So I say to people, don’t give up. Talk to anyone you can. Go online. Start a web page. Talk to bloggers. Go to the cops. It is a very different media world than existed when Adam was kidnapped and murdered and we got no help. The FBI refused to get involved. It was a different world back then. … I say to people, “Unfortunately, it is really up to you to try to keep your loved one’s memory and the case alive.”
Speaking of that brave new world, can you tell me more about your new show, The Hunt?
It is very different. It premiered last Sunday on CNN. I was off for about a year and a half; I just could not keep getting hundreds of Facebook [messages] and people would tweet me cold cases and FBI and marshals saying to me there are cases and cases stacking up here. You caught the uncatchable in 45 countries; when are you coming back on the air? So I made a great deal with CNN. It had great ratings, way more than anyone anticipated, I guess. [Indeed it did. The Hunt debuted as the highest-rated original series that CNN has ever had, according to The Wrap.]
Anyway, it’s very different. I do one case or two cases, not like AMW, where I used to jam 10 guys or 5 guys in with a couple of missing children and cold cases. And I speak like I always wanted to speak. When you’re on network TV, you’ve got standards and practices and lawyers and this and that. Jeff Zucker said to me, “I see you on so many talk shows—and you’re on here on Wolf and Anderson Cooper. Talk like you really talk. Talk like when you’re testifying. Talk like when you’re passionate about things.”
So instead of me on motorcycles and jumping out of planes and whatever I used to do, I sort of reflect on each of the cases and gave it my personal feelings. An unscripted show. They are recreations, the first whole hour was about one horrible guy that murdered his family and is still at large. This coming week will be about two pedophiles.
When I left AMW, I got that wonderful Emmy for excellence in television that they gave to Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson. I thought, “Well, this is a good way to go out. This is a great run, 25 years.” But I just couldn’t sit by the sidelines, as a father of a murdered child. The guy I profiled last week, the marshals kept calling me and saying, “John, you could catch Shane Miller. You could catch this bastard. He had a bunker with 100 assault weapons and 100,000 rounds of ammunition and cop-killer bullets. He’s dangerous.”
So I saddled back up. It’s a very different-looking show. Very lush recreations. Zero Point Zero won an Emmy last year for cinematography. It is an interesting partnership. Jeff Zucker was the one who said I should team up with these guys and make some interesting TV, but I had to come on with a news channel. The hard thing is to keep the viewers going.
I think you’re gonna find that there’s an audience for you for sure. I don’t think they’ve gone anywhere. I think what you do is pretty tremendous, and I think a lot of people think that. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you want to put out there?
No, I just really really loved doing this special. I’m an old guy, and I was ready to hang up my boots, but I’m back, and I was glad to do this because I got to meet these nice people. It’s nice that you’re covering this special, because I think fans of Cold Justice or anyone who turns us on will really see the pain and suffering of not having your case solved, how much violence there is in America. Really, it’s incredible for the richest country in the world. I’ve said it in every state capital many times and before Congress nonstop for 33 years, still trying to get some reasonable gun control. You’ll see a very special Cold Justice, and you’ll see what a lot of Americans go through. And then the incredible good job when this retired prosecutor and crime-scene investigator and these wonderful cops who hung up their spurs years ago come into small-town America and solve these horrible crimes. It’s really pretty interesting.
Cold Justice airs Fridays at 9/8C on TNT.